Tuesday, 25 April 2017

BEST OF CRIME with Paul Finch

Welcome to my latest BEST OF CRIME feature, looking at crime writers' top picks, from their favourite author and fictional detective to their best writing tip. 

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


to share his BEST OF CRIME ... 

Ted Lewis, creator of Jack Carter, the racketeer-turned-avenger, who appeared in three novels, Jack’s Return Home, Jack Carter’s Law and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon. The first one is the most memorable, not least because it was filmed in 1970 as the seminal crime thriller, Get Carter. It was probably the first adult crime novel I read, and it had a massive impact on me, primarily because it captured my home, the industrial north, so well. Ted Lewis had limited output; he sadly died at the age of 42, but he did more than most to create that stark, gritty school of British noir. 

Ironically, given my previous answer, my favourite crime thriller is not Get Carter, but probably The French Connection (1971), directed by William Friedkin, and of course, starring Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider. Even now, it breaks all the rules, eschewing plot and traditional narrative structure for documentary-style uber-realism. It’s quite simply an eye-popper (no pun intended), portraying a seedier, grimier New York than we’d ever seen before, and depicting inner city cops, not so much as heroes, but as the ruthless, hard-bitten individuals they are in real life. I was a cop myself, and this is still one of the most authentic cop movies I’ve ever seen.

Without doubt, it’s The Sweeney (1975-78). I think you can see where this interview is going by now.  All of my preferences, thus far at least, date from a harder, tougher era, when we weren’t afraid to show what cops were really like. I think The Sweeney has dated badly now, if I’m honest, but at the time – when I was at my most impressionable age, I suppose – after slower-paced shows like Dixon of Dock Green – it was such a refreshing change to see a no-holds-barred action series that had pace, rawness and irreverence, with John Thaw as Regan, the last word in roughneck DIs. It didn’t just make me want to write about the cops, it made me want to join them. 

For me, Donovan ‘Red’ Grant is one of the scariest killers in thriller fiction. He appeared in Ian Fleming’s fifth James Bond novel, From Russia With Love (1957), as the quintessential professional assassin. A muscular blond psychopath, he deserted the British Army in Berlin, and joined the Soviet counter-intelligence agency, SMERSH, becoming their chief executioner. Despite his looks, he is totally asexual, has the eyes ‘of a drowned man’ and prefers to kill at the time of the full moon. Most folk will remember Robert Shaw’s mesmerising performance in the 1963 movie version. Anyone who can go toe-to-toe with 007 has got to be a serious opponent. 

After reflection, I think it has to be Art Keller, the DEA man in Don Winslow’s epic duo of ‘dope war’ novels, Power of the Dog (2005) and The Cartel (2015). Keller is the archetypical good guy, because, though flawed – as all our law-enforcement heroes must be these days – he’s up against an edifice of evil in the form of the Mexican cartels, a bunch of crime syndicates who will stop at nothing – including torture and mass murder – to advance their schemes. Keller is clever rather than tough, and though by the end, he’s a pale, wearied shadow of the guy he was, you can’t help but love him for taking on such a monstrous opponent … and winning (of a fashion). 


For me, it’s the actual hound of the Baskervilles. I’ve always been a horror fan as well as a thriller fan, and the more gothic and traditional, the better. Hammer’s Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) was the first horror movie I was allowed to watch as a child, and it terrified me. I soon found myself reading the novel, which also wove a magical spell. The image of the vast, desolate moor and this monstrous beast of legend, which it wasn’t actually difficult for a clever madman to recreate using perfectly non-supernatural means, all make for one of the greatest crime thrillers ever written. The Hound of Hell – can you think of a more hideous means by which to kill someone?

One of the most horrific ever occurs in the second half of Don Winslow’s second dope war saga, The Cartel (2015), when the Zetas, a special forces group who have taken to drugs-dealing themselves, are enraged by a busload of itinerant workers accidentally straying onto their patch when business is in progress. What follows is the most harrowing massacre of the innocent you’re ever likely to read. Everyone on that bus, both men and women, are killed, but only after being used as playthings for hours, and when they die, it isn’t quick – they are garroted, burned, beheaded, etc. It completely underlines the depths of evil in that astonishing novel.

Sorry to be boring, but for me it’s always Wikipedia. I know it’s not necessarily the most reliable source, but I tend to do most of my real research with people rather than websites; I have a list of various experts I can call on. If I ever need to look something up quickly, I find Wikipedia pretty useful for that. 

Make your rejections work for you. First of all, accept that rejection slips are an occupational hazard – we all get them (most of us could wallpaper our offices with them). Secondly, learn from them. If an editor or publisher has gone to the trouble of telling you why he’s knocking you back, you don’t have to agree with it, but at least take note of what he/she is saying, and if that criticism comes up again and again, consider that the fault may lie with you. Which is not the end of the world, because if it’s something you can fix, do it – that could be the difference between getting rejected again next time, or making a sale. 

It sounds a bit self-indulgent, but today it’s cakes and ale. It isn’t exactly a tradition of ours, but today is publication day – as I write, ASHES TO ASHES has just been published – and someone has treated my wife (and business partner) Cathy, and I, to some cakes and a couple of light ales. We are currently enjoying them as a form of minor celebration.

Paul Finch is a screenwriter, novelist, short story writer and journalist, whose published and broadcast work covers a wide spectrum of genres, including horror, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers and crime.

Find out more about Paul Finch on his website and also on Twitter - @paulfinchauthor


Publisher's description
John Sagan is a forgettable man. You could pass him in the street and not realise he’s there. But then, that’s why he’s so dangerous.
A torturer for hire, Sagan has terrorised – and mutilated – countless victims. And now he’s on the move. DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg must chase the trail, even when it leads him to his hometown of Bradburn – a place he never thought he’d set foot in again.

But Sagan isn’t the only problem. Bradburn is being terrorised by a lone killer who burns his victims to death. And with the victims chosen at random, no-one knows who will be next. Least of all Heck…

Ashes to Ashes was published by Avon on 6 April 2017.

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